Located deep in oneís belly, the transverse abdominis muscle, or TVA for short, wraps around the entire human trunk, surrounding the core organs and providing support for the spine. At the back, perpendicular to the TVA, lies the psoas, a large muscle connected to the spine. Supporting the torso, these two muscles are at the center of the human body. Above them lie the muscles we generally think of when we consider the belly and back: the rectus abdominis, the obliques, and the erector spinae. All of these work together to help us stand and move. While many exercise programs focus on the top layer of muscle, itís important to pull the entire set of muscles together to fully strengthen the core. This will ensure better posture, promote easier breathing, and reduce the risk of injury.
Crunches can be helpful, but they mostly target the rectus abdominis and oblique muscles. This is why the many plank variations have become so popular with personal trainers, as they work the entire core. Asana practice has long focused here, with plank a part of Sun Salutations and vinyasa sequences. Of course, with a proper warm-up, an entire asana session can focus on this area.
Sun Salutations are traditionally used as a warm-up, and for good reason: the sequence works almost every muscle in the human body. Begin slowly, with half salutations, and then move through a complete progression. Itís fun to alternate between Surya Namaskar A, B, and C, but that is up to you. Once warmed up, findTadasana, or Mountain Pose. From here, move into Virabhadrasana>/i>, or Warrior, II. Hold the pose, focusing on alignment and the breath, for up to one minute. Then move into Trikonasana, or Triangle pose, again breathing into the posture and bringing attention to the positioning of each part of the body. Come back into Virabhadrasana II and then jump back to Mountain Pose. Repeat this on the other side of the body. Itís a good idea to repeat the entire sequence again on each side. Then make your way down to hands and knees.
From hands and knees, a few Cat-Cow (Marjayasana-Bidalasana) moves that link to Balasana, or Childís Pose, provide a nice stretch for the trunk and a chance to check in with the breath. Are you working with sthira and sukha (steadiness and ease)? Do you need some time in Childís Pose to give the body a chance to re-connect to the mind and breath?
From here, come back to hands and knees. Make sure that your palms are directly under your shoulders, and that your shoulders are pulled down into their sockets. Step your feet back into plank position. Note that the power of this position comes from your core Ė not your arms or legs. If the stomach is sagging, drop to the knees in order to keep the core muscles working. If holding the full pose is no problem, you can vary the position by dropping onto your elbows into forearm plank. Breathe into the position, and see how long you can hold the pose, starting perhaps with a count of ten and moving to a count of sixty.
From Plank, shift your weight to the right side. Your feet will turn so that the body is positioned on the blade of the foot. Your left left can either be bent and held in front of the body or positioned on the other leg for the full Side Plank, or Vasisthasana. Again, hold the variation that works from your core; any variation will help to strengthen the muscles. Come back to Plank and repeat on the other side.
From here, close the practice on your back, perhaps with a few repetitions of Bridge Pose, or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana in Sanskrit. Bring your knees to your chest before moving into Savasana, or Corpse Pose, to relax the allow the body to assimilate the movement.